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Disagreements in Israeli war cabinet over Gaza war

Photo: Oren Ziv Agence France-Presse Former army chief Gadi Eisenkot said in an Israeli television program broadcast late Thursday that “the hostages will only return alive if there is an agreement, linked to a significant pause in the fighting.” “. His son was killed in December in Gaza, seen here (right) at his funeral.

Julia Frankel – Associated Press, Najib Jobain – The Canadian Press, Bassem Mroué – Associated Press in Jerusalem

January 19, 2024

  • Middle East

Dissensions are emerging among senior Israeli officials over the management of the war against Hamas in Gaza. A member of the Israeli war cabinet questioned the hostage release strategy, while the prime minister rejected U.S. calls to scale back the offensive.

Only a ceasefire agreement can allow the release of the dozens of hostages still held by Islamist militants in Gaza, and claims that they could be freed by other means do not than spreading “illusions,” said former army chief Gadi Eisenkot, one of four members of the war cabinet, in his first public statements about the progress of the war.

Mr. Eisenkot's comments last Thursday are the latest sign of disagreement between political and military leaders over the direction of Israel's offensive against Hamas, now in its fourth month.

Triggered by an unprecedented Hamas raid in Israel on October 7, which left around 1,200 people dead, mostly civilians, and 250 hostages, the Israeli offensive pulverized much of the Strip of Gaza, which has a population of some 2.3 million. Israel said more than 130 hostages remained in the Gaza Strip, but not all were believed to be alive.

The Israeli offensive, one of the deadliest and most destructive military campaigns in recent history, has killed nearly 25,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health authorities, and uprooted more than 80% of the territory's population.

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The Hamas-run Gaza Strip's Health Ministry announced Friday that 142 people were killed and 278 injured the day before, bringing the total number of deaths since October 7 to 24,762 and the total number of injured to 62,108.

Israel has also cut off supplies to the small, besieged territory except for a trickle of food, water and fuel. A few dozen trucks carrying essential goods now enter the territory every day, which is only a fraction of the pre-war volume of around 500 trucks. Both the United States and the United Nations have said more aid needs to be delivered.

The communications blackout in the territory was in its seventh day on Friday, the longest since the start of the war. It hampers the coordination of aid deliveries and rescue operations.

The hostages will only return alive if there is an agreement, linked to a significant pause in the fighting

— Gadi Eisenkot, former head of the Israeli army

A Palestinian state after the war ?

The United States, Israel's closest ally, has provided significant military and political support for its military campaign, but it is increasingly calling on Israel to reduce its assault and take steps toward creating 'a Palestinian state after the war ― a suggestion that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vigorously rejected.

Speaking at a nationally televised press conference on Thursday, Netanyahu reiterated his long-standing opposition to a two-state solution, arguing that a Palestinian state would become a launching pad for attacks on Israel.

Israel “must have security control over all territory west of the Jordan [River],” Mr. Netanyahu said, adding: “This goes against the idea of ​​sovereignty. What can we do? »

The United States said the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority, which governs semi-autonomous areas in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, should be “revitalized” and returned to Gaza. Hamas ousted the Palestinian Authority from Gaza in 2007.

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Washington also called for steps to be taken towards the creation of a Palestinian state. The Palestinians want to create a state in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, regions conquered by Israel in 1967.

A spokesperson for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who heads the Palestinian Authority, said last Thursday that there cannot be “security and stability in the region” without a Palestinian state.

Netanyahu persists and signs

Mr. Netanyahu and his Defense Minister, Yoav Gallant, responded that the fighting would continue until Hamas was crushed and that only military action would secure the release of the hostages.

Hamas seeks to end the war before discussing the release of hostages and has demanded the release of thousands of Palestinians imprisoned by Israel in exchange for those held prisoner in Gaza. A truce at the end of November allowed such exchanges, with around a hundred Israeli hostages having been released in exchange for 240 Palestinian prisoners.

Commentators began to question whether Mr. Netanyahu's goals were realistic, given the slow pace of the offensive and growing international criticism, including charges of genocide at the World Court of Justice. United Nations, which Israel vehemently denies.

Prime Minister Netanyahu's opponents accuse him of delaying any discussion of post-war scenarios in order to avoid looming investigations into government failures, to keep his coalition intact and to fend off elections. Polls show that the popularity of Mr. Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption, collapsed during the war.

No release of hostages without agreement

Gadi Eisenkot, whose son was killed in December in Gaza, told the investigative show Uvda on the Israeli Channel 12 television, late Thursday, that “the hostages will only return alive if there is an agreement, linked to a significant pause in the fighting.” He added that dramatic rescue operations were unlikely because the hostages are apparently scattered, many of them in underground tunnels.

To assert that hostages can be released by means other than an agreement “is to sow illusions,” he said.

In a thinly veiled criticism of Mr Netanyahu, Mr Eisenkot also said that strategic decisions regarding the direction of the war had to be made urgently and that a discussion on ending the war should have been started immediately afterwards the beginning of it.

He also rejected suggestions that the army had dealt a decisive blow to Hamas.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant claimed that troops had incapacitated the Hamas command structure in the northern Gaza Strip, resulting in significant numbers troops were withdrawn at the beginning of the week, and the focus was now on the southern half of the territory.

“We have not yet achieved a strategic result, or rather only partially, estimated Mr. Eisenkot. We did not bring down Hamas. »

The Palestinian militant group continued to respond throughout the Gaza Strip, even in the most devastated areas, and launched rockets into Israel.

Howls in the war cabinet

In his interview, Mr. Eisenkot also confirmed that a pre-emptive attack against the Lebanese Hezbollah militia was called off at the last minute during the first days of the war. He said he was among those who spoke out against such an attack at a cabinet meeting on October 11, during which he said he found himself hoarse from shouting.

Such an attack would have been a “strategic error” and would likely have sparked a regional war, Eisenkot said.

The former army chief said he asks himself every day whether to stay in the war cabinet, which includes Mr. Netanyahu, Mr. Gallant and former Defense Minister Benny Gantz. Mr. Eisenkot is a member of Parliament in the “National Unity” opposition alliance, led by Mr. Gantz. Both joined Mr. Netanyahu to help wage the war.

“I know what my red line is,” Mr. Eisenkot said when asked when he would resign. It is linked to the hostages, that is one of the objectives, but it is also linked to the way in which we must fight this war. »

The war has spread across the Middle East, with Iranian-backed groups attacking American and Israeli targets.

Fighting between Israel and Hezbollah militants in Lebanon threatens to escalate into all-out war, and Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen continue to target international shipping despite U.S.-led airstrikes.

The United States also carried out a fifth strike against the Houthi rebels in Yemen on Thursday, even though President Joe Biden acknowledged that the militants' bombings had not yet put an end to their attacks on shipping in the crucial Red Sea corridor.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116